When I read the introduction to Sophie Gilbert’s Atlantic review, “Why Women Aren’t Having Children,” I took her thesis to be that the deliberately childless are actually happy and selfless. Instead, I read a confirmation of the Holy Father’s “judgy” claim—these people are depressed.
The childless couples described in the article do not live for righteousness or the hope of eternal life; they believe that humans are parasites on an otherwise lovely earth. They (perhaps rightly) fear that their own children would feel unwanted. Their “rational” calculations regarding childbearing are entirely utilitarian.
My view of life itself is radically different. These people choose not to have children out of despair, hedonism, and perceived worthlessness; I choose to have them out of sincere joy, love, and hope. At the core of my worldview is the idea that “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” I believe that eternity will be better for everyone if my son lives in it. I live in pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness and am eager to share them with my children. Here I offer some reflection on how this worldview has affected my own life and marriage so far.
I was married to a graduate student, Chad, halfway through my senior year at Notre Dame. I didn’t know of another married undergraduate, much less one with children. In part, I chose to marry and start a family in college because it was unusual. Not out of a desire to distinguish myself, but in a small effort to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I hated the typical college lifestyle and was convinced that if our twenties involved less partying, maybe even less studying, more marrying and more children, our generation would be happier and healthier. So I chose to lead the way by example.
When we first married, we actually intended to wait until Chad graduated to have children. I would work for a couple of years, pay down my student loans and get professional experience. We experienced a very rapid change of heart; our thoughts at the time were complex, but I can define a few contributing factors. My job prospects in South Bend were lackluster. I met a friend who stayed home with her baby on a graduate student stipend income—if they could do it, why couldn’t we? After careful consideration, the finances were not as problematic as we first thought. I loved holding and playing with other babies and longed to have one of my own.
Most of all, at the heart of our decision was a strong feeling that our marriage was incomplete; it seemed so natural for our love and our commitment to bear fruit in new life, and so unnatural to prevent it. I felt that if I was delaying children for the sake of my education or my career, then the ruling focus of my life was my career, not my husband and my marriage. I felt like a heart divided and needed to be able to entirely prioritize and give myself to my marriage. Since we made the decision to be open to new life, I have been at peace. I certainly continue to pursue other interests and to serve other people outside of my own family, but it is now easy to prioritize knowing that my family comes first.
If a married couple chooses to forego children—who were a major and unavoidable component of marriage until the last 50 years—for the sake of something outside of their marriage, however noble, how can you define the purpose of their marriage except as something essentially selfish, fulfilling my/our emotional needs, making me/us happy? If I am going to give the best of myself to a noble outside cause, why divide myself between it and my husband, belonging completely to neither?
It is a strange fact of our society that infertility and sterilization are the default. The vast majority of women are not fertile, not ovulating; a conscious choice must be made to stop using contraception when a child is desired. A woman changes the physical, if not the emotional, structure of her very being, whether to do what makes her happy or to focus on the goals she has chosen. A married woman, except in the sad case of impaired fertility, cannot truly be herself and be childless. She must change herself, fight against her own nature, to accomplish that. Infertility is not my default mode of being, so naturally, I have children.